2 Aug 2023 • 10 min read

Health Information Security: Understanding

Nitha

Marketing Manager, Cabot

Health Information Security: Understanding HIPAA Requirements and Best Practices
Introduction

HIPAA, or Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) compliance is not a choice, but a necessity.
HIPAA is a complete federal law that protects the privacy and security of patient health information. Effective since 1996, mobile apps handling protected health information (PHI) have been required to comply with it. This post is to give you a detailed look at the “why”, “how”, and “what” around HIPAA compliance for mobile apps, so you’re better informed about healthcare app development.

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“In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear.”

— Olivia Rhye, Product Designer

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What is HIPAA? Why do mobile apps need to be HIPAA compliant?

In short, HIPAA regulates the handling of PHI or Patient Health Information, which is any information that can identify an individual and relates to their physical or mental health. This applies to any organization providing medical services or delivering healthcare products, including hospitals, physicians’ offices, pharmacies, insurance companies and more.

HIPAA: Security Requirements

One important leg of HIPAA compliance is security.

  1. By security, HIPAA means the security measures needed to ensure confidentiality and limited accessibility of data. This includes measures such as encrypted data transmission between devices and servers and strong authentication for user accounts.
  2. There must also be strict access control policies in place to allow only authorized personnel to view/ modify PHI data stored on the system.
  3. Finally, all the PHI data stored on your systems must be regularly backed up and monitored for potential security breaches or vulnerabilities.

The second critical leg of HIPAA is privacy.

  1. This is to enforce the (a) collection of only strictly necessary patient data, (b) limiting the storage and usage of it, (c) minimizing its disclosure (i.e., sharing it only with authorized personnel), (d) mandating strict procedures for its disposal, and (e) offering patients access to their own records upon request, among other things.

The tricky part about HIPAA is implementing encryption, password protection, and data backup methods without compromising the user/health provider experience.

How can you make your healthcare app HIPAA compliant?

How can you make your healthcare app HIPAA compliant?

  1. Implement administrative, physical and technical safeguards to protect the confidentiality, integrity, and availability of protected health information (PHI).
  2. Ensure all PHI is encrypted, both stored and in transit.
  3. Strengthen access controls to limit the users having access to PHI.
  4. Conduct regular risk assessments to identify + address potential security threats.
  5. Train your employees with access to patient data on HIPAA regulations and the best practices around patient data security.
  6. Devise a comprehensive, fail-proof disaster recovery plan.
  7. Sign a Business Associate Agreement (BAA) with any third-party service providers handling PHI on your organization’s behalf.
  8. Monitor + audit your app’s security measures to ensure HIPAA compliance.

Conclusion

With increasing mobile app development demand and popularity comes the increasing need to strengthen data security and privacy. This is particularly valuable in healthcare, where compliance laws are not a passable option but a necessity. By inventorying these requirements and leveraging appropriate tools and resources such as those provided by experienced consultants and specialized software programs, your organization can confidently develop and deploy mobile apps without compromising existing patient privacy and security standards.

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